Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rationing Mammograms

Want a foretaste of life with government-run health care?
"A government task force said Monday that most women don't need mammograms in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50 — a stunning reversal and a break with the American Cancer Society's long-standing position. What's more, the panel said breast self-exams do no good, and women shouldn't be taught to do them.

...the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government panel of doctors and scientists, concluded that such early and frequent screenings often lead to false alarms and unneeded biopsies, without substantially improving women's odds of survival."
"Unneeded biopsies" translates to "costly tests."

I did a quick sample of our current breast cancer patients. Almost a fourth of that sample were under 50. Of those women, the youngest – a 30-year-old woman – had the most advanced disease.

Is this panel saying those women don't actually have cancer and can go home? No. It's saying there is insufficient benefit in finding and treating these cases with respect to the overall cost.

And the medical community is aghast. The chief medical officer of the ACS says, "the [task force] is essentially telling women that mammography at age 40 to 49 saves lives; just not enough of them."

That's exactly what they're saying. One or two or two thousand lives have to be weighed against the good of "society."

Right now these are non-binding government recommendations. They can make women's lives more difficult, of course – some insurance companies will decide to follow those recommendations, and their customers who want a mammogram will have problems getting one.

But if we change, as Obama et al want, to a single-payer system, their recommendation will be law. If your doctor thinks, as many do, that these recommendations are utterly insane, you still won't be able to get the test you need. It's happened in Britain, and it can happen here.

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